Thursday, April 17, 2008

Chapel of St. Ignatius, Stephen Holl, 1997, Seattle, Washington

So, the post I meant to publish last week--before the Crisis in the Lab and the Wedding of the Brother intervened-- was about St. Ignatius, another chapel whose design and symbology centers around light.

Steven Holl describes the chapel as a stone box containing seven 'bottles' of light. Skylights and colored glass are used to create seven different qualities of light, corresponding to elements of the (Roman Catholic) liturgical progression:
1. Procession – natural sunlight 2. Narthex – natural sunlight 3. Nave – yellow field with blue lens (east); blue field with yellow lens (west) 4. Blessed Sacrament – orange field with purple lens 5. Choir – green field with red lens 6. Reconcilation Chapel – purple field with orange lens 7. Bell Tower and pond – projecting reflecting night light

The interior of the chapel flutters with patches of colored light, as if inside a very slow-turning kaleidoscope. It is frankly brilliant.

I do find the exterior disappointing; the stone bottles rising from the box seem awkward and piecey, uncohesive. Nevertheless, this is a building I would travel to see.

And having something of a background in optics I love the front door, which has seven lenses (repeating the seven bottles theme) set in at different angles to rotate light into the interior at different times of the evening.

Whether this style of building would suit your church or not, let it inspire you to carefully consider the power of not just the presence of light, but its nature (color, intensity), its progression (time of day and season), and its absence (shadows) as well.

The best photos of the chapel are by Liao Yusheng at figure-ground.

P.S. I wish I knew what the finish on the (concrete?) interior is, creating the slightly 'blotchy' pattern. Any help?

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